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Vice President Pence To Stay On Campaign Trail Despite Inner Circle Outbreak; Interview With Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL); Trump Baselessly Suggests Doctors And Hospitals Are Inflating COVID-19 Death Counts; Many Pharmacies Still Won't Vaccinate Children Against Flu; Early Voter Turnout Shatters Records; Harris Speaks In Michigan; Melania Trump Stays Off Campaign Trail; First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt; CNN Hero Woody Faircloth. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired October 25, 2020 - 16:00   ET



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We begin this hour with the coronavirus pandemic spiraling further out of control in the U.S. And now the White House dealing with yet another outbreak.

On Saturday the U.S. topped 83,000 new cases for the second time in as many days, painfully close to breaking the record set Friday. The U.S. death toll has surpassed 225,000. And now word that at least five people in Vice President Mike Pence's office including his chief of staff, Marc Short, have tested positive for coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the vice president and his wife have both tested negative, but as the leader of the White House's Coronavirus Task Force, it expects Pence to follow CDC guidelines and self-quarantine for 14 days as a precaution. But with just nine days until the election he is choosing the exact opposite, choosing instead to campaign every day until November 3rd. President Trump was asked about his vice president remaining on the trail, and this is what he said.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Should the vice president come off the campaign trail?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You have to ask him. He's doing very well. Good crowds. Very socially distanced. He's doing very well.


WHITFIELD: In a few hours Pence will hold a rally in North Carolina, a state seeing its own spike in new cases. President Trump has not slowed down either. He has had more campaign stops today. Right now, he's actually in Maine.

All right. Let's turn to CNN's White House Correspondent, John Harwood.

So, John, some of these aides in the vice president's office who tested positive work very closely with him. Yet again the vice president is not going to quarantine for 14 days, which is a CDC recommendation?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's really astonishing, Fred. This group of aides who tested positive includes his chief of staff, includes his so-called body man, the person closest to the vice president as he moves around the country. And just think about what a blow this is to the Trump administration and the Trump campaign. They are losing this campaign badly to Joe Biden at the moment. The top issue is coronavirus. Voters judge him harshly for failing to have controlled the coronavirus.

The president wants to talk about anything else but COVID. And yet we now have a fresh demonstration that the administration is not competent to control the coronavirus even for people around the head of the Coronavirus Task Force, Mike Pence. This is similar to the blow they suffered when the president himself got sick.

And in addition to that, you know, the White House chief of staff Mark Meadows had tried to keep this secret. He acknowledged that to Jake Tapper this morning. But then even more astonishing he confessed that not only is the administration not capable of controlling this, they're not even seriously trying. Take a listen.


MARK MEADOWS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Here's what we have to do. We're not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR, STATE OF THE UNION: Why aren't we going to get control of the pandemic?

MEADOWS: Because it is a contagious virus just like the flu.

TAPPER: Yes, but why not make efforts to contain it?

MEADOWS: Well, we are making efforts to contain it. And that's --

TAPPER: By running all over the country not wearing a mask? That's what the vice president is doing.

MEADOWS: Jake, we can't get into the back and forth. Let me just say this, is what we need to do is make sure that we have the proper mitigation factors whether it's therapies or vaccines or treatments to make sure that people don't die from this.


HARWOOD: Now the fact that Vice President Pence is not following CDC protocols is simply another demonstration of the administration's inability to do the job on this front. We should say the vice president has tested negative for the coronavirus, but when you're exposed, you can develop symptoms significantly later.

They're now arguing, as Chief of Staff Meadows did, that he is an essential worker, but it is quite plain to anyone in terms of governing the country, campaigning for a vice president is not essential work, Fred.

WHITFIELD: And then, John, you know, if the president is worried about his running mate, he's not necessarily, you know, showing it, particularly in his comments there on the tarmac when asked about it.

HARWOOD: Right. Well, look, this is a president who is -- been very consistent about caring about one person, and that is himself. So he will keep a little bit of dance from the vice president, say it's up to him what he decides to do, but of course the buck stops with him, even if he doesn't want to admit it.


TRUMP: Do you know why we have cases so much? Because that's all we do is test. If we cut our testing down in half, they'd say -- well, they wouldn't say that. But cases would go down. Now we have the best test -- and we are coming around. We're rounding the turn. We have the vaccines. We have everything. We're rounding the turn. Even without the vaccines we're rounding the turn.


HARWOOD: Now needless to say, anyone with a bit of sense knows that tests do not create cases. They reveal cases. But that's how the president has chosen to characterize this. And he says we're rounding the corner which we're obviously not doing given the spike in cases, hospitalizations and now deaths, Fred.


WHITFIELD: Right. All right. Very sobering. John Harwood at the White House, thank you so much.

All right, with me now is Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. He is the minority whip and a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Senator, good to see you. So let me begin, you know, first by your reaction to yet another outbreak in the White House. This time five members of Vice President Pence's inner circle testing positive.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Well, I can tell you, when Chief of Staff Mark Meadows announced that they were throwing in the mask and throwing in the towel on trying to stop this pandemic, it really was a revelation. I mean, we've known this for a long, long time. They're looking for the miracle vaccine and frankly don't want to engage in the basics to avoid infection and subsequent death.

And this is the very basic, just wearing a mask. And here's a vice president who now has been exposed at least on a staff level to people who are seriously ill. He wants to come to the United States Senate and preside tomorrow night on the vote on Amy Coney Barrett. I agree with Chuck Schumer, please, for the sake of the Senate, for our health, and maybe even your own, stay home.

WHITFIELD: Besides that verbal plea, what can you do to say, you know, Vice President, Mr. Vice President, you're not welcome right now particularly because people close to you, people who work closest to you have tested positive and just simply for the protection of everyone here in the chambers, don't come?

DURBIN: The bottom line is he has the constitutional right as vice president, and presiding over the Senate to be a super spreader. And if he wants to exercise his constitutional right, I can guarantee those of us who are going to be voting are going to be standing in the back of the chamber and trying not to expose anybody to the danger of his presence.

WHITFIELD: You know, there have been some lessons learned out there from people who have either contracted coronavirus or at least come into close contact with, as it pertains to the White House's inner circle. I mean, Governor Christie -- former governor Chris Christie of New Jersey said this today about his lessons learned.


CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: The whole getting of COVID, to begins with, and the not wearing of masks has been a problem. I've talked about that over the last couple of weeks. And so I think everybody has got to put the health of the people they're going to be in touch with first. When I found out that I got COVID that Friday morning, I immediately quarantined myself. I also wound up in the hospital. But you've got to keep yourself away from everybody, and I'm a little bit surprised.


WHITFIELD: Why does that message not seem to sink in with this White House?

DURBIN: Well, I can tell you when the president comes off the helicopters from Walter Reed, does his ceremonial march up the steps for his balcony scene, his Evita moment, strips off his mask, and really proclaims his invincibility, it's exactly oppositive of what a president should be saying. He ought to thank those health heroes who kept him alive and beg people, be careful for yourself and for the people you love. Wearing a simple mask is something that's not too much to ask. When the president stripped his off, it sent exactly the wrong message to America.

WHITFIELD: And now another message being sent to America, there is this urgency to get the Supreme Court justice nominee confirmed as early as tomorrow. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell says by tomorrow evening there will be a new Supreme Court justice, yet there hasn't been the same level of urgency to get a stimulus plan going. So many people are not going to be able to make their rent again or their mortgage or even put foot on the table. So what are your concerns and what's your messaging?

DURBIN: Senator McConnell contacted the White House last week and said don't waste any more time on this, we're not going to pass a COVID-19 bill in the United States Senate. The Republicans are in control and we have a higher priority. We need to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court so that justice is in place to eliminate the Affordable Care Act and take health insurance away from 23 million Americans.

Think about that. Taking health insurance away from 23 million Americans in the midst of a pandemic? That's the priority of the Republican Senate controlled operation. It is not COVID-19.

WHITFIELD: Are you concerned that of those voters who get to take advantage of early voting, that they will feel, you know, this is de- incentivizing me to vote because I feel like the priorities are not that of the American welfare?

DURBIN: Well, I hope that those voters realize it's time for change in the Senate that the Republican majority that's decided that one Supreme Court nominee is more important than millions of Americans who are going through a pandemic is the wrong decision. It's time for a change in the Senate.

WHITFIELD: And Senator Durbin, what precaution will you, if you can, take tomorrow if indeed the vice president is to show up?

DURBIN: I'm going to stay away from him as far as I can. I'll be in the back of the chamber. I'll stick my head in the door to vote and that's it. It's a shame that we've reached that point. But they are so irresponsible at the White House. They can't keep the White House safe from COVID-19.


How are they going to keep the nation safe from it? You know, as far as I'm concerned, the vice president is saying the best interest of public health and all the innocent people I'm making contact with, I am not going to go to the Senate, I am not going to campaign.

WHITFIELD: Senator Dick Durbin, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

DURBIN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Still ahead, nearly 84,000 new coronavirus infections now reported in the United States for the second day in a row. Could this lead to a crackdown on masks and social distancing.

Plus a CNN exclusive. As the nation deals with both the pandemic and the flu season, many pharmacies still will not vaccinate children even after the Trump administration ordered that. What went wrong?

And later, a major win for two churches in Colorado that sued over mask and social distancing requirements. Does this set a precedent for the rest of the country?


WHITFIELD: More than 225,000 people in the U.S. have died in the coronavirus pandemic, but President Trump is questioning the numbers, claiming health care professionals are inflating the death toll for financial reasons. To be clear, there is no evidence that suggests hospitals are exaggerating coronavirus numbers.

Joining me right now to discuss is Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency medicine physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boson.

So, Doctor, how damaging are these false claims from the president that these numbers are inflated?

DR. JEREMY FAUST, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN, BRIGHAM AND WOMEN'S HOSPITAL: What the president said last night at one of his rallies about the idea that doctors were somehow cooking the books on coronavirus was simply outrageous, and it should not and cannot stand. The American College of Emergency Physicians, of which I am a proud member, actually is one of the most centrist organizations in all of the sort of medical landscape and they had to issue a statement this morning.

And I don't want to get it wrong. They said they were appalled because this is reckless and false, and they said that it was baseless. I can tell you the names of people, like Erwin (INAUDIBLE), a registered nurse I used to work with, who died from COVID-19. He didn't die from anything else. He's 58 years old and healthy. So to hear the president say that is offensive and it's just beyond the pale.

And I just -- I can't express to you how awful it feels to be a frontline provider and to speak for the doctors and the nurses and everyone watching who does this work alongside me. To hear that, we are angry.

WHITFIELD: Mm-hmm. I bet you are because you feel like you're trying now to defend your experience of how it is you do your job, what you're witnessing in people, and is it your feeling that the president is putting people at an even greater risks by doing so?

FAUST: That is my feeling. And so -- you know, I can take it personally and sort of professionally and be angry, but also as a public health professional, it's also my job to think about everybody else. So as long as I have PPE, which is its own problem because we don't have, but at the moment, I'm OK.

But it's really my job to think about everybody. And when I think about what the president is doing by downplaying this or by misconstruing things, is that they -- he might think, oh, what's the harm, it just kind of wins a talking point, I can win a news cycle.

But actually it changes people's behaviors. And so these sentences that he utters have consequences. And so people would be reassured and go out and get this virus potentially because they were falsely reassured, and that death is on him. So we really need to hold our leaders to account here. They wanted to lead and so they must lead. And when they lead poorly, they need to be held accountable.

WHITFIELD: The numbers are bad, and it is clear, I mean, the urgency is great, but when you have, say, for instance the city of El Paso, Texas, which is now asking residents to stay home for two weeks in an effort to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. Governor Greg Abbott has also just announced that the U.S. Health Department is deploying two 35-person disaster medical assistance teams to help mitigate the spread of the virus in El Paso.

Is it your feeling that this is addressing the medical emergency, or do you also worry that there is a political influence here the next who weeks? Staying home, that would also mean people in El Paso are being told, not just for their health but not to vote?

FAUST: Well, voting should be safe whether it's in-person or whether it's by mail. We know that there's been a lot of efforts by, for example, to Infectious Disease Society of America, they have put forth some really good guidelines at how to make voting safe. And we know that we need enough PPEs, so that election day does not become a super spreader, but I think that voting is very important. It can be done correctly.

Politicizing this is a nightmare. We all want a safe election and we all want coronavirus to go in the other direction. We want it to disappear, not explode the way it seems to be right now. So, yes, certainly anytime politics have entered this, we've seen bad things happen such as at the CDC. The CDC has been great on some things. At other times, they've fallen prey to politics. So anytime I see something like that, I worry because, again, it's not really -- it's not an academic exercise. Real lives are on the line.

WHITFIELD: Dr. Jeremy Faust, thank you so much.

And of course, this programming note, perhaps the question will be answered, is this politically motivated or is this strictly about health? The mayor of El Paso, Texas, Dean Margo, will join Ana Cabrera tonight at 7:00 Eastern.

All right, now to this CNN exclusive. Back in August, the Trump administration issued a new policy to improve flu vaccination rates among children. Well, now a CNN investigation shows that the move is not working.

CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins me now.


Elizabeth, what more are you learning?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Fred, we've all heard about these coming twin-demics of COVID-19 and the flu this winter so we've been told, this is the most important flu season ever, you must get a flu shot. And so -- but unfortunately, many pharmacies will not vaccine children. Any parents know, I'm sure you know this, Fred, it is just easier to take your child to a pharmacy in most cases. They have evening hours. They have weekend hours. You don't have to take time off from work. You don't have to make an appointment.

But take a look at this map. Thirty states in the United States do not let pharmacists vaccinate children at all or vaccinate children under a certain age, so you can't even go to pharmacies if you have children of a certain age in these states. So in August, the Trump administration did something that was actually applauded by many public health experts. He put out a declaration saying, look, pharmacists can now give flu vaccines to children ages 3 and plus, but this is where the CNN investigation comes in.

We called more than 175 pharmacies in those 30 dates, and very few of them, only about 30 of them, would be willing to vaccinate a child 3 and up. So even though they can, even though the Trump administration told them you can do it, very few of them, a very small percentage, were willing to vaccinate a child 3 and up. And we are almost at the end of flu vaccine season. The FDA and the CDC say best to get your flu shot by the end of October. Of course, you can get it later, but best to get it by the end of October. We're almost there -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: And largely the reason for that inconsistency is because state law prohibits some of these pharmacies from doing so?

COHEN: Well, you know, actually it's interesting. We're told by the federal government that their directive supersedes any state laws. That whatever law states had saying no, you can't vaccinate a child that the federal law supersedes it. But what happened we're told by public health experts is that Trump just -- the administration just put out an edict basically. They just put out this policy, they put out this declaration, and they didn't do anything to implement it, so many of the pharmacies we called didn't even know that it existed.

And so what public health experts tell us is you can't just put out a policy, you have to talk to the pharmacies, you have to talk to insurance companies so the pharmacies will get paid. You have to talk to pediatrician so they understand what's going on. Now the federal government says that they did do some measures to implement this, but the pharmacists that we talked to, many of them, had not even heard of this policy change and they're the ones on the frontline giving out these vaccinations.

WHITFIELD: All right. Meantime, most of these parents then have to resort to going to their pediatricians in order to get those vaccines for their kids.

Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much.

COHEN: Thanks.

WHITFIELD: We'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: With elections just nine days away, a record-breaking number of American voters, more than 58 million, have cast their early ballots. In the key 14 battleground states alone, more that much 30 million voters have turned out. And in the all-important swing state of Florida, another record broken, with more than 5,700,000 early ballots cast. The 2020 election is already one for the records. Barbara Boxer served

as California Democratic U.S. senator for 24 years. She is now a teaching fellow at the University of Southern California, and joining us now.

Senator Boxer, what does the sheer number of early voters tell you about this election?

BARBARA BOXER (D-CA), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Well, as a proud supporter of Joe Biden, I think it's a good sign for him, but having run many times myself, you have to run like you're way behind. But looking at these numbers, it makes my heart soar. And looking at the voting lines, I have -- I'm of two minds. One is how spectacular is it that people are willing to wait hours, and on the other side, why is so hard?

But I think we're off to an amazing start. And I think what it says is people who are unexpected are coming out like youth in big numbers, minorities in large numbers. It's pretty spectacular.

WHITFIELD: So, you know, the -- let's talk about this non-vote related, but, you know, tomorrow there may be, according to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, there will be a new Supreme Court justice and the Senate will be advancing Barrett's nomination. They did so today by passing this key procedural vote, but then tomorrow is the expected nomination. And Vice President Pence is expected to be there.

As you know, five people in his office have tested positive to COVID. And he is not expected to respect CDC recommendations of quarantining for 14 days. So what are your thoughts on his presence given where the pandemic is now and what the messaging should be from someone who leads the Coronavirus Task Force?

BOXER: Well, first, it is so irresponsible. It's hard for me to put it into words. As a mom and a grandma myself, you know, you always take care that you're protecting your family. It's his job to protect our families. He can't even protect his own staff. The president wasn't even protected. The first family wasn't protected. And now he's putting people at risk.

But let me tell you something, there's a political price to pay. If you listen to Joe Biden carefully, as I am proudly doing, he makes the case this election really is about the mishandling of this pandemic.


And this vice president, the head of the task force, not even to pay attention to the CDC guidelines. And for this president to take virtually no responsibility for this pandemic.

Today, I watched Jake Tapper talk to Mark Meadows, the chief of staff to the president. And, basically, Meadows is saying, you know -- you know, forget it. We can't do anything.

And I've got to tell you, one group to watch is seniors. They're going to start breaking for Joe Biden. I have news for everybody. We would like to live. And it's pretty clear, the way they are handling this. It's this herd immunity which is another way of turning it into the killing fields.

WHITFIELD: More specifically, it was Mark Meadows who said, and I'm quoting now, "We are not going to control the pandemic."

Former Senator Barbara Boxer, thank you so much. You made reference to Joe Biden. Well, his running mate, right now, Kamala Harris is on the campaign trail. And she is coming to us, right now, live from Pontiac, Michigan. Let's listen.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (live): This has been a crisis that has caused people to suffer. And here's the thing. Donald Trump, thanks to a fellow by the name of Bob Woodward, we know. Donald Trump knew about the seriousness of this back on January 28th. He knew. He knew that it could kill people. He knew that it could hurt young people. He knew it was airborne. And he sat on that information and did not tell the American people.

Can you imagine what you might have done if, on January 28th, you knew what this would turn out to be? You know, before the pandemic, we already were in a situation where folks had to work two and three jobs to try to pay the rent. We were already in a situation where most American families don't even have $1,000 of life savings. Can you imagine what you might have known on January 28th that would have allowed you to prepare, not to mention buying toilet paper. You know what I'm talking about.

But he sat on that information. We are now aware of what he knew and look at the disaster and how it could have been avoided. A public health epidemic. And, on the one hand, in this election, you have Joe Biden who says we need to expand health care. We need to protect people with preexisting conditions.

We need to bring our -- bring down the age of the eligibility for Medicare to age 60. We need to recognize that when we're talking about health care, the body didn't start at the neck down, it also includes the neck up. That's called mental health care. Joe Biden recognizes that. That's the kind of president he will be.

On the other hand, you have Donald Trump, who with his boy Bill Barr, is in the United States Supreme Court trying to sue to get rid of the Affordable Care Act.

And here's the thing, Pontiac. You know, even when he was running for office, have you noticed how Donald Trump has had this weird obsession with trying to get rid of whatever Barack Obama and Joe Biden created? We don't need a president with weird obsessions, do we? We don't want that.

So, he is trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. In court right now. And, if he wins, over 20 million people will lose their coverage. People with pre-existing conditions. Do you know anybody? Do you love anybody with diabetes? With high blood pressure? Breast cancer? Lupus? And that coverage and that protection will be gone. There is a clear choice in this election about the path that we will be on, just after about nine days.


HARRIS: We're going through a crisis that is a crisis of our economy. An economic crisis that is being compared to the Great Depression. Over 30 million people, in just the last several months, had to file for unemployment. Here, in Michigan, one in 10 is describing hunger in their household. One in six is describing an inability to pay rent or get rent paid next month. One in four small businesses, in Michigan, has had to close.

In America, today, one in five mothers is describing her children, under the age of 12, as being hungry. We're in the midst of a hunger crisis in America. We're not talking about that.

And, on the one hand, you have Joe Biden. When he thinks about how well America's economy is doing, he asks the question, how are working people doing? He asks, how are working families doing? He says, when we get in office, we will not increase taxes on anyone making less than $400,000.

And we will ensure that working families don't pay more than seven percent of your income for child care. We will make sure there is a $15,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers, so you can have a down payment and closing costs to have access to the American dream. That's how Joe Biden thinks about the economy.

On the other hand, you have Donald Trump. When asked about how he measures the economy, he says, well, how's the stock market doing? How are rich people doing? One of his first acts, when he got into office, was to pass a tax bill, benefiting the top one percent and the biggest corporations of America.

Well, in a Biden and Harris administration, we're about to get rid of that and invest that money in working people. Invest that money in building up America's infrastructure. And that's about jobs, building back up our roads and bridges and investing in renewable energies. That's about the auto industry and investing the money in America's auto industry so we become an international and global leader. And, in particular, in the production of electric vehicles.

We're dealing with crises. We're dealing with a long overdue reckoning on the issue of racial injustice in America. On the one hand, you have Joe Biden, who has the courage and the knowledge of America's history to speak the phrase "Black Lives Matter."

On the other hand, you have Donald Trump, who will never speak that phrase. And, in the debate before last, when asked to condemn white supremacists, failed to do so. And then, doubled down and told them to stand back and stand by. When confronted with the issue of Charlottesville, where peaceful protesters were protesting racial injustice in America. A young woman was killed at that protest.

And on the other side, there were Neo-Nazis wearing swastikas, carrying tiki torches, hurling racial epithets, anti-sematic epithets. And what did Donald Trump say? There were fine people on both sides. You have Joe Biden, who says we need to deal with these issues, in

terms of systemic racism. Both in our health care system. Yes, in our educational system. The racial wealth gap. We need to reform the criminal justice system.


HARRIS: We need to decriminalize marijuana. Expunge the records of people who have been convicted. We need to end mandatory minimums. We need to end cash bail, because people are sitting in jail simply because they don't have the money to get out. And that is an economic justice issue just as much as a criminal justice issue.

WHITFIELD: Vice presidential nominee, Kamala Harris, there in Pontiac, Michigan, campaigning just nine days away from Election Day. She says also she'll be making appearances in Ohio and Texas as well, campaigning for the ticket.

All right, next, where is first lady, Melania Trump? She's off the campaign trail as her husband crisscrosses battleground states.



WHITFIELD: All right, this just in. These images you see there of Vice President Mike Pence, who is leaving a very rainy Joint Base Andrews on route to Kinston, North Carolina. You can hear reporters ask -- you know, throwing out questions there, but no answers coming from the vice president. It is notable, he is wearing a mask, given that five people in his office had just tested positive. Yet, he continues to hit the campaign trail there. On his way to North Carolina. No quarantining of 14 days. CDC recommendations.

All right, meantime, we are just nine days away from the 2020 election. Yet, there is one voice, one presence we have yet to see on the campaign trail. A voice who, traditionally, has been a closer for the president. The one who has helped humanize past presidents. I'm talking about the first lady of the United States. Melania Trump has been near absent from the public eye after contracting Coronavirus. She did appear at the last presidential debate. She will not be campaigning, we understand, for him at this juncture.

Joining me right now to talk about all of this, the author of the book, "First Women," and CNN Contributor Kate Andersen Brower. Thanks so much for being with me.

So, does her absence say more about her medical condition, post Coronavirus, or something more about her appetite for a second term of campaigning? What does this say?

KATE ANDERSEN BROWER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: She doesn't like to campaign. I know that several campaign aides have said that they are frustrated. And in Kate Bennett's story for CNN, she talks, you know, in depth about the frustration among the Trump -- President Trump's as campaign, that she won't go out there. And, honestly, I cannot think of another example of a modern first lady who has been as invisible on the campaign trail. It's remarkable. I mean, she pulled out of that Pennsylvania rally. It would have been the first major campaign event she would have done since June 2019.



WHITFIELD: Yes. And so, it was a very abrupt cancellation, recently. And, at the time, the explanation was because she had a cough. But then, a couple days later, you did see her, you know, join her husband on stage post presidential debate.

So, I mean, do you chalk this up to the independence of this first lady, you know, she's going to do what she wants to do? You know, or is there something else? I mean, yes, she's been reluctant. But, you know, it's so unusual that it's confusing.

ANDERSEN BROWER: It is. I mean, look, she didn't sign up for this life. She didn't marry a politician. I don't think she ever thought that she would be in the White House. And, you know, he is, at this point, trying to get white suburban women. And I am not sure if maybe she thinks that she can't be that helpful right now. Her favorability rating is pretty low since the RNC. It even went down after her speech. So, maybe, for her, it's just not worth it.

But it's incredible not to see her. I mean, Jackie Kennedy is the last first lady who wasn't really out there a lot during the 1960 campaign. But she was pregnant at the time, so her doctors told her not to campaign. There's really no real reason why we're not seeing more of Melania.

WHITFIELD: All right, we'll leave it there for now. Kate Andersen Brower, thank you so much.

All right, we're still talking about first ladies but another era. Eleanor Roosevelt made a name for herself as a journalist and social activist before she ever got to the White House. And, tonight, in an all new episode of a CNN original series, "First Ladies," we'll explore how she reinvented the role of the first lady and set the tone for all the women, pretty much, who followed in her footsteps. Here's a preview.


ELEANOR ROOSEVELT, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I was a rather rebellious first lady.

I'm afraid I did some things which were not usual for the lady in the White House.

PAUL SPARROW, DIRECTOR, FDR PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY: The role of the first lady had traditionally been so constricted. It was about socializing and being a hostess, and that was it. And that was not Eleanor's life. ALLIDA BLACK, FOUNDING EDITOR, "ELEANOR ROOSEVELT PAPERS": At that

point, she was on the board of 17 major reform organizations in New York State, had her own career as a journalist and as a social activist.

ROBIN GERBER, AUTHOR, "LEADERSHIP THE ELEANOR ROOSEVELT WAY": She is an absolute powerhouse. She's running for the women's Democratic news, working for the Democratic Party. So, leaving all of that to come to the White House and do what?


GERBER: Hold teas? Pick new China? This is a privilege, not to live in the White House and have fancy dinners. The privilege is you have a megaphone to speak to the world, if you can figure out how to use it.


WHITFIELD: All right, joining us now is Allida Black. You saw her in that clip, founding editor of the "Eleanor Roosevelt Papers," and distinguished visiting scholar at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia. So, good to see you, Allida.

BLACK: Hey, Fredricka, nice to be here.

WHITFIELD: Wonderful. So, Eleanor Roosevelt a powerhouse before she even got into the White House. So, I mean, it's no wonder she was not going to become demure or less of a powerhouse, once stepping into that role as first lady. But what gave her the, kind of, chutzpah to be that way?

BLACK: Well, she and FDR had developed parallel, but overlapping, lives by the time that he is elected president. In fact, you know, she did not want to be first lady at all. The record is very clear on this. Although, she believed he would be a phenomenal president. And he says to her, you've got to quit all your jobs. You know, you can't teach anymore and you can't be on the boards of any unions anymore, any social change organizations.

And so, her first real challenge, Fredricka, is to figure out how to be Eleanor in the White House.

WHITFIELD: So, how did she go about that? How did she process that?

BLACK: Well, she asked FDR if she could do three things, which other first ladies had done: help with his mail, help with his calendar or travel. And he shut her down on all three. But, you know, there are these bonus Army veterans, these World War I veterans who were camped out at Anacostia. And Eisenhower and Hoover and Patton had really attacked them. And the American Army shoots at American Army veterans who are trying to get their pensions early.

And Eleanor ends up over there walking among them for a day. And she's, you know, eating beans with her fingers, talking about, you know, their lives with them. Their hometowns. What their expectations are. And then, the press writes about it. Now, she's over there with no boom mic, no CNN, no Twitter feed, no nothing. It's been -- I mean, we're talking, this woman is walking around in a tent camp. And the next day, the headline comes out of that is that Hoover sent the troops, but FDR sent his wife. And he realizes, voila.

WHITFIELD: Oh, wow. We can't wait to hear more about her this evening. Allida Black, thank you so much. And be sure to watch an all-new episode of CNN original series, "First Ladies." That's tonight at 10:00 Eastern and Pacific.



WHITFIELD: California is struggling with its worst wildfire season on record. For the thousands of people who lost their homes, 2019 CNN Hero Woody Faircloth is working to provide them with RVs until they can get back on their feet.


WOODY FAIRCLOTH, CNN HERO: Unfortunately, this fire has really affected a lot of first responders. Six of the seven volunteer firefighters in Berry Creek, California lost their homes, including the chief. And so, Luna and I did what we do. We sourced a couple donated RVs, and we headed out to California. We delivered one to Chief Reed Rankin.

REED RANKIN, CHIEF, BERRY CREEK RANCHERIA FIRE DEPARTMENT: We just can't say thank you enough. But thank you. And I deeply appreciate it because the weather will be coming on here in another month and a half. And at least we've got somewhere to be.

FAIRCLOTH: You know, he loves his community.

RANKIN: It's huge. I mean, I just don't have much words but it's huge.

FAIRCLOTH: About a couple thousand of his neighbors were left homeless; 15 people were killed in the fire. And, you know, they've been through a lot. But the chief's still up here every day on the line fighting the fire.

RANKIN: I have to start over somehow. And I've just got to everything done up here. And get the fire completely out and get people back into (INAUDIBLE.) And then, I can start trying to figure out what I'm going to do. But I'm definitely staying in Berry Creek, and I'm definitely going to somehow rebuild. And hopefully FEMA will help us out.


WHITFIELD: For Woody's full story, go to

And, finally, this hour, a reminder from space to get out and vote. This is astronaut Kate Rubins showing off her makeshift voting booth aboard the International Space Station. She says if he can manage to vote, so can you.


KATE RUBINS, ASTRONAUT, NASA: There's legislation passed, a number of years ago, to allow astronauts to vote in space. I think a lot of astronauts do this. They feel that it's very important. It's critical to participate in our democracy. We consider it an honor to be able to vote from space. And so, we fill out a form and we vote via absentee ballot. And I plan on do that in November. I think it's really important for everybody to vote. And if we can do it from space, then I believe folks can do it from

the ground, too.


WHITFIELD: All right, more news right after this.


WHITFIELD: All right, you're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.